I have moved into my new dwelling for the next 2 years, and in just two days I have been enfolded by a small storm of drama.
Let me start earlier though. This past Friday I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer! (Please see pictures on the post below) The ceremony was held at the US ambassador’s and was televised on the Gambia’s only National TV station GRTS. From the pictures you will see that we were wearing funny green outfits. Here it is common for people in ceremonies to all dress in a common fabric that is custom tailored. This is called an asobi and made us look like well decorated Christmas trees for our event which paints an effective picture for the interesting blend of culture that it represented. It included opening prayers in Islam, Christianity, and our lone Taoist, Remy. There was a welcoming speech given in Pulaar by one of our trainee’s Scott, a speech about life in the Peace Corps by the ambassador (a former volunteer herself), and a speech about The Gambia by the Minister of the Environment. I for my part gave a two line statement in Wolof about our mission here during the closing song: It basically said “We have come here to give the people of the Gambia sustainable technology” as I thought was appropriate for my mission with IRD. In Wolof it sounded like “Nuynanu fi paski danu buga jox (x = deep H) wa Gambia technology bu am muuch” word for word it would look like “Nuynanu (comewehave) fi (here) paski (because) danu (weare) buga (wanting) jox (togive) (wa) people Gambia (The Gambia) technology (there is no word for this in Wolof) bu (is a linking word) am (that has) muuch (forever lastingness). You can see how in the modern world it is difficult to translate the idea of sustainable technology through a relatively ancient tribal language, regardless it was fun to say a few lines on the national TV station and everything went very well. When it was all finished we had a large party that is perhaps still going on as it was given to all us new volunteers by the 70 or so other volunteers that had come from all over the country to welcome us and who had not had seen civilization for quite some time.
I have in this time made some incredible lifelong friends who have already endeared themselves to me through their selflessness and just sheer awesome outlooks on life to come here to chill in a village for 2 years. I am so gifted to have met people who go outside of the busyness of American life and step outside their comfort zone. I will spend some time on each of them at some point soon, but needless to say I am very happy with the wonderful people I have been sworn in with.
So I have been dropped off in a “city” but really it is still a village, people just walk a little faster and there are gnarled yellow taxis everywhere. With my settling in allowance I was unable to buy much so instead I bought nails, a saw, cinder blocks (cost me 50d to have it brought to my house by donkey cart), and plywood (I was ripped off by a nasty man, but it was the only place that had it within walking distance). I plan on making tables, a book shelf, and at some point bee hive boxes to start bee keeping at a place 30 minutes outside of town. My house is nice, but I must tell you about my first problem that has made itself evident only 2 days into my stay here. There is a very nice family that was given as a potential host family (family that would help me integrate with the community) by Peace Corps who took me in and started feeding me and helping me speak the local language. Anyway, my biggest help was Jamela, a 24 year old girl who went to university (rare for a woman), but now cannot find a job. We have talked for many hours and last night she showed up to see my place… after quickly showing here around I took chairs out to the front of the house to diffuse warning flags that were already going up in my mind. Sure enough after leaving I got multipaged texts expressing undying love and devotion to me. I still get the feeling that because they get a few dramatic soap operas on GRTS that they don't know really how strong of a phrase "since d very day i see u i have dis filling that i luv u and i mean it i am really in luv with u pls help me " is (this is an exact text quote from the first message i received... because languages are phonetic here spelling is often ignored by people here) It is hard to explain how lonely this made me feel because I am certain my exoticness and the fact I am from America with its promises of free flights, marriage, and visas is what drew her to me more than real friendship and comradely. This I think may have ended my relationship with my potential new host family because I have been as of now unable to deflect her advances effectively. This has left things very lonely as she and her family was my only connection to my new community. I am sure that I will make others though. I have already had good bonding with my coworkers here at my new job (today is my first day and they took me out to lunch) and I think that it will all work out.
But as I was getting text messages of undying love and realizing that my new family was going away. I comforted myself by eating from a box of mangled cereal from of all places Wal-Mart. Somehow a store owner here has the distinction of having some of the only true American food items in the Gambia. He somehow gets random boxes of damaged (but still good) merchandise from walmart, this stuff is very expensive and will destroy my monthly living allowance in no time as it is often double the normal American price despite its mangled outer boxes. The things they have are random and depend on what is dropped by forklift drivers back in the states so it is like a potluck of walmarts leftovers. On this night however, I pulled out my plastic chair and slowly munched my bowl of fruity pebbles (their cheapest ie most mangled cereal) in candle light and listened to BBC as I pondered where I will find a family to take me in.